Spring on Buffalo Bayou with Jim
Another Visit to Document That Bend in the River
April 29, 2019
Photographer Jim Olive was back in town just in time to take some beautiful shots of a springtime morning on that bend in Buffalo Bayou. For almost five years now we’ve been meeting in Memorial Park and walking across the dewy grass, dodging bicyclists spinning round the paved Picnic Loop, to document the sun rising over the trees from the same high bank on the bayou.
It’s changed some over the years, with major floods taking down some of the trees and the high banks sloughing down, only to stabilize and regrow, as is the continuous pattern. But the bayou through here is remarkably stable in its directional path. Lined with ancient sandstone on its sides and bottom, the 18,000-year-old bayou flowing past Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary further downstream has been following essentially the same route for at least a hundred years – based on the earliest topographic maps we have. And probably for a lot longer than that.
On this Friday morning the picnic grounds were still lightly littered with the colorful remains of cascarones, dyed Easter eggs filled with confetti and cracked over someone’s head.
On our way into and through the woods, we paused to consider the massive, decaying pine still somehow standing tall next to the dirt path, its headless corpse rising high into the blue sky.
The photographer went to work while the assistant, kicking aside a loose puffball mushroom, focused anxiously on glimpses of heavy machinery parked near ominous orange netting strung up behind the trees and vegetation on the edge of the country club golf course across the water. Ugly, foolish, and costly plans, with the potential to damage parkland as well as private property, are in the works for the banks there. We’ll have more about that eventually.
And then suddenly a huge flock of large gray-and-white hawk-like birds took the sky, circling and circling high, possibly disturbed by groundskeepers fertilizing and watering the golf course. Even Jim, a naturalist who knows everything, even in Latin, couldn’t identify them.
Click here to see the entire series documenting A Bend in the River.
Flooding, Buffalo Bayou, and Development
Experts’ Report: New Development Increasing Flooding
Storm Surge and Climate Action Plan
April 29, 2019
There are important meetings and events coming up focusing on flooding, Buffalo Bayou and its many tributaries, and local plans for addressing climate catastrophe.
In case you didn’t know, Buffalo Bayou is the main river flowing through the city of Houston. Beginning way out west in the Katy Prairie, the bayou flows for some fifty miles through suburbs, forested parks, including Barker dam and reservoir, past golf courses, high-rises, and downtown, becoming the Houston Ship Channel and emptying into the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay.
In addition to numerous small creeks and streams, the bayou has thirteen major tributaries and at least five minor tributaries on the north, and two major and seven minor tributaries on the south. These include Greens, Halls, Hunting, White Oak, Bear Creek, South Mayde Creek, Willow Fork, and Williams Gully on the north, and Brays and Sims bayous on the south.
Buffalo Bayou, like most of our other main streams such as White Oak and Brays, is tidal through the city, meaning that at very high tides the flow can stop and even reverse. Buffalo Bayou is considered tidal to about 440 yards upstream or west of the Shepherd Bridge.
Corps of Engineers Public Meetings: Buffalo Bayou and Its Tributaries
So that’s one reason why, when we talk about flooding, drainage, and storm surge, we talk about Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries.
To that end, the Galveston District of the US Army Corps of Engineers is hosting a series of five public meetings in and around Houston in connection with a $6 million study of the causes of flooding along Buffalo Bayou. The study will also consider ways to reduce flood risks upstream and downstream of Barker and Addicks, the two federal dams west of the city, both of which drain into Buffalo Bayou.
Development Regulations Allowing More Flooding
The bottom line on drainage and detention regulations is that they are “allowing new development to increase downstream flooding.”
Researchers also recommended that new regulations and policies emphasize both green (nature-based) and gray (engineered hard structure) infrastructure to address flooding. They warned against “relying too much on expensive infrastructure projects.”
The Consortium is a collaboration of regional academic institutions with expertise in hydrology, climate science, engineering, coastal resiliency, energy, community development and urban planning.
You can find the reports here.
Save the Date
The Consortium will host a symposium and social hour open to the public on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The free symposium will feature brief presentations on the Consortium’s 2019 body of work by leading researchers and authors. A social Q&A session with authors, funders, and attendees will follow. Refreshments will be provided.
Details on the location to follow.
Storm Surge Protection Alternatives
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia is holding a public meeting to learn about and discuss the alternatives proposed for protecting the Houston-Galveston region and the people and industries along the Houston Ship Channel and Buffalo Bayou from a massive tidal surge associated with sea level rise and increasingly powerful storms. That’s flooding coming up from the sea rather than down the bayou into the sea.
The US Army Corps of Engineers will provide an update on their planning process for coastal protection. Texas A&M Galveston will make a presentation of their proposed Ike Dike. And the SSPEED Center at Rice University will present their Galveston Bay Park Plan, a concept for building a bay barrier along the Houston Ship Channel with a mid-bay surge gate.
The meeting will be May 15, 2019, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at San Jacinto College, Central Campus, Slocomb Auditorium, 8060 Spencer Highway in Pasadena.
Come On Down to Earth Day
April 13, 2019
Come join Save Buffalo Bayou and a host of other environmental organizations for Houston’s Earth Day 2019. Organized by the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition in partnership with Green Mountain Energy and Discovery Green, the free event takes place in downtown Houston from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 14 (tomorrow!) at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney.
The event features exhibits on topics ranging from alternative energy to recycling, plus live music and a farmers’ market.
Among the many organizations participating in Houston’s Earth Day are Air Alliance Houston, the American Wind Energy Association, Artist Boat, Bayou City Waterkeeper, the Galveston Bay Foundation, the Sierra Club of Houston, Texas Campaign for the Environment, the Nature Conservancy of Texas, and many more.
World-Wide Earth Day
The Sunday downtown event isn’t the only Earth Day thing happening. Earth-honoring events are going on all over the region throughout the month of April, as well as around the world.
Houston has been celebrating Earth Day since the very first Earth Day in 1970 (see also here) when millions of people around the world took to the streets on April 22 to protest against the degradation of the environment. In July of that year, President Richard Nixon proposed and Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency. Two years later, at a time when polluted urban rivers, including the Houston Ship Channel, were bursting into flame, Congress created the Clean Water Act.
Clean Water Act Threatened. Public Comment due by Monday, April 15, on Proposed Changes
Earth Day has special significance this year as the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers have proposed changes to the Clean Water Act. The proposed changes are generally supported by developer and farm organizations and opposed by environmental groups. A new definition of “waters of the United States” will limit federal protections for wetlands, ditches, and ephemeral tributaries of traditional navigable waters.
Monday, April 15, is the deadline for the public to comment on the proposed changes.
According to some estimates, the new definition of “waters of the United States” would eliminate federal protection for more than half the nation’s wetlands and millions of miles of streams that feed into and cleanse the nation’s drinking water, sustain fisheries and protect communities from flooding.